Flaunting Wealth, Flaunting Virtue

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Post author Christopher R. Hutson is Professor of Bible, Missions, and Ministry at Abilene Christian University and serves on the Board of Equity for Women in the Church.




According to 1 Timothy 2:9, women should adorn themselves “with modesty and temperance, not with braids and gold or pearls or expensive garments.” It is ironic that many Christians who rigidly enforce the injunction against women teaching in 2:11-12, simply ignore the guidelines on clothing in the same context. If we can see how the instructions about adornments fit into a specific ancient context and are not automatically applicable in every social context, then perhaps we might begin to understand how the same could be true for the injunction about teaching.

Below is an excerpt from Christopher R. Hutson, First and Second Timothy and Titus (Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019), pp. 70–71. Used by permission. Baker Academic is a division of Baker Publishing Group,  http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com.


Romans alternated between two competing attitudes toward women’s dress. Fancy clothing and adornments could represent “feminine excess that was leading Rome into a state of moral decline” or they could advertise the wealth and prestige of Rome’s leading families, according honor especially to their male relatives” (Upson-Saia 2011, 19; cf. Livy, Ab urbe 34.1-8).

Mummy Portrait of a Woman, A.D. 100,  Encaustic on linden wood; gilt; linen Photo: J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California

Mummy Portrait of a Woman, A.D. 100,
Encaustic on linden wood; gilt; linen
Photo: J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California

Livia, sculpture from Roman Spain,  first century Museo Arqueólogica Nacional, Madrid. Photo: Christopher R. Hutson

Livia, sculpture from Roman Spain,
first century
Museo Arqueólogica Nacional, Madrid.
Photo: Christopher R. Hutson

Two portraits illustrate the alternatives, both carefully composed. A Roman-Egyptian mummy portrait from the early second century shows a woman whose attire matches 1 Tim 2:9. We do not know whether she is wearing her best pearls, sentimental favorite pearls, her only pearls, borrowed pearls, or pearls imagined by the artist. All that remain of her identity are the name Isidora on the shoulder of the mummy wrappings and this portrait, in which elaborate braids, gold, pearls, and lavender clothing project wealth and status. By contrast, a statue of Livia from Spain projects a different image. As the wife of Augustus, Livia was enormously wealthy and powerful, but the statue projects none of that. The artist sculpted an image of unadorned virtue—a Roman wife with simple hairstyle, no jewels, and simple clothing that projected modesty and temperance.

Respectable Roman women appeared in public flaunting wealth or flaunting virtue. Given those choices, Pastoral Paul urged that Christian values were in line with the Roman rhetoric of modesty but not the Roman practice of status competition. Far from capitulating to Roman values, this argument for the apologetic value of clothing anticipates Diognetus (Diog. 5.4). We can plot a trajectory from 1 Tim 2 through the third and fourth centuries, as Christians developed clothing traditions that demonstrated Christian values to the wider society (Upson-Saia 2011, 33-58).

There is nothing inherently sinful about braids or gold. Christians should behave in ways that reflect modesty and temperance where they live. This is all the more true where Christianity is not well known or lacking secure legal status. But what hairstyle, jewelry or clothing constitutes “decorum” or “extravagance” varies, from culture to culture and from century to century. We should not expect Christians in all times and places to conform to the societal norms of the early Roman Empire, but Christians should consider how their attire reflects Christian values.

Statement on Sexual Abuse in Churches

The #MeToo movement that raised widespread awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse and violence empowered women to break their silence about the abuse they have suffered in churches. #ChurchToo stories are a powerful reminder that sexual abuse isn’t limited to Hollywood. In light of the pervasive and persistent sexual abuse, violence, and harassment that exist within faith communities, the board members of Equity for Women in the Church wrote and adopted the following statement on sexual abuse in churches:

Equity for Women in the Church is an ecumenical movement to facilitate equal representation of clergywomen as pastors of multicultural churches in order to transform church and society. Our mission is not only to advocate and network for clergywomen to facilitate access and congregational receptivity, but also to dismantle patriarchal and white supremacist church practices and structures so clergywomen can thrive in pastoral positions.

Through educational programs and publications, Equity for Women in the Church teaches gender and racial equality based on the foundational belief that all persons are created equally in the divine image (Genesis 1:27). Equity for Women in the Church also seeks to model an egalitarian leadership structure with co-chairs and board members, diverse in gender and race, who share decision-making power.

Sexual abuse in churches violates the divine image in each person. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual discrimination, and all forms of sexual abuse create deep wounds, trauma, confusion, fear, guilt, and chaos in the lives of survivors and perpetrators. Sexual abuse damages entire faith communities where people worship, minister, work, and learn. Equity for Women in the Church names the sin of sexual abuse against clergywomen and any persons and works to change unjust patterns which enable the perpetuation of sexual violence. We help create faith communities where clergywomen, lay leaders, and members can worship, learn, and work together in a safe atmosphere free from all forms of discrimination, harassment, exploitation, and intimidation.

Equity for Women in the Church stands against any abuse of power by church leaders who use their positions to gratify their own needs. Through our programs, publications, conferences, and organizational structure, we contribute to the prevention of such abuse of power by promoting shared power and responsibility and by modeling self-care and boundary-setting. We advocate for inclusive, egalitarian leadership and inclusive language for humanity and divinity to affirm the sacredness of all persons and the equal value of everyone’s gifts. We help eliminate sexist and racist practices and language in congregations, and celebrate the equal dignity of all people.

Equity for Women in the Church is committed to changing the patriarchal culture and hierarchical structures in the church that contribute to gender-based harassment, exploitation, and violence. Through teaching and modeling inclusive, egalitarian leadership and language we contribute to changing patriarchal culture that forms the foundation for sexual abuse. We help create a culture of gender and racial equality so that clergywomen and laypeople can become all we are created to be in the divine image.

Believe the Women: An Interview with Leah Grundset Davis

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Rev. Dr. Leah Grundset Davis began as pastor at Ravensworth Baptist Church, Annandale, Va., in September 2017 in a new model of shared pastoral ministry. Leah previously served as communications specialist at the Alliance of Baptists and Associate Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, Washington, D.C. She graduated in May 2017 with a Doctor of Ministry degree from Candler School of Theology at Emory University, focused on Baptist women preaching the Magnificat. Her seminary studies were conducted at Baylor's Truett Seminary where she received a Master of Divinity degree in 2007. Leah graduated from Baylor University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Religion. She lives in Bristow, Va., with her husband John, and two young daughters.

Rev. Grundset Davis kindly agreed to an interview about her new book, Believe the Women, with Equity for Women in the Church’s Co-Chair, Rev. Jann Aldredge-Clanton.

How did you decide to focus on the Magnificat in your book Believe the Women?

The Magnificat has been a formative text for me and I had this idea that just maybe it had been for other women too. And it turned out I was right! It’s this beautiful song of justice and hope, promise and power, and I’ve always connected with Mary singing it in the Gospel of Luke.

Why did you choose to lift up the voices of Alliance of Baptists women preachers in this book?

I was working on my Doctor of Ministry degree and that final project was the basis for this book. At the time, I was working for the Alliance of Baptists as the communications specialist and I was noticing we needed to lift up the stories of Alliance clergywomen.

Recount your call to ordained pastoral ministry. How did women you feature in your book influence your call?

When I was 10, I knew I wanted to be a pastor. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church that was formative for me, but the year was 1992 and it was at the height of the schism. So at 10, my pastor told me I couldn’t because I was a woman. My road to ordained ministry was long and winding, never doubting that I could be a pastor, but wondering if I as a woman, would ever receive a call to be one in a local church. Nancy Hastings Sehested and Isabel Docampo were early supporters of the Alliance and I had heard their names. When I finished college at Baylor and began seminary at Truett, Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell was my pastor and all of a sudden, I saw a woman being a pastor. That’s when everything changed and I knew that I would pursue this no matter the obstacles because I felt a deep calling.

How does Mary’s song relate to the song you feel called to sing?

Mary’s song is one that I feel like I can sing every day. With the injustice we see around us, I can sing the Magnificat. With the pain and grief that circles, I can sing this song. In the same way, I can sing this song with joy and celebration. For me, Mary’s song is one that grounds me in my belief that God is love, and God’s hope calls us forward in the reality of our context.

Have you ever questioned your Baptist identity? Why have you remained in the Baptist denomination?

Yes! I tried so hard to not be Baptist when I was in seminary because I knew it would be a hard road to find a pastorate. But as it turns out, I’m Baptist raised and it really is who I am. I believe in what we proclaim—that we all have a direct connection to God, that with soul liberty both we are free and at the same time, always demanding that others be free, the way we voluntarily organize ourselves as Baptists is a good match for me, both in my congregational leanings and my pastoral leadership.

What compelled you to write Believe the Women?

Once I hit submit on my Doctor of Ministry final project, I knew I needed a break, but I also knew I wasn’t done with this work. I wanted a larger audience to know of the stories of these six courageous Alliance clergy women.

How do you answer those feminists who believe that the Bible is misogynistic and cannot be a helpful resource for dismantling patriarchy? Why do you draw from the biblical story of Mary in your book?

I think a lot of the writers of the Bible were misogynistic! But what I also know is that God’s calls for equity and justice is always there—sometimes in between the lines, sometimes on the margin of the text. As we interpret and re-tell the stories, we have a chance to lift up the voices that have too long been neglected and share their stories in the light of God’s liberating love.

How do the stories and sermons of Rev. Dr. Isabel Docampo and Rev. Maria Swearingen illustrate intersectional feminism? Are there other women featured in your book who also draw from the intersection of justice concerns?

This work of intersectionality was one that I could only dip my toe into for a little book. I was living with the work of Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw and asking how do intersections influence how we preach and how we interpret the biblical text. Without writing a tome, I think Isabel’s story tells about what it meant to be Cuban-American and a mujerista theologian and Baptist in the United States South and she preaches from that place. Maria, preaches with attention to her identity as a Puerto Rican, queer woman, who can’t stop being Baptist. When we lift up these stories, we learn so much about these women, ourselves, and our Creator. I think all the women in the book touch on some form of intersectional justice concerns.

The voices of current-day women are still stifled by many churches who deny them opportunities for pastoral ministry. How do you see your generation opening more doors for women to sing the songs they feel called to sing? What is your hope for this book?

I think we are poised for more and more women to be singing freely. Transwomen are being ordained in Baptist churches and the world is hearing a whole new song—more songs of the beauty of God’s creation. It is still difficult to find pastoral positions, but the songs of liberation are only getting louder and bolder. Women, who have known of the oppressive weight of patriarchy, are leading the choir now--singing boldly against Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, racism, white supremacy, and hate. We’ll keep singing just like Mary—we have to.

What’s one question about your new book you’d like to answer that I didn’t ask? What comes next for Believe the Women?

At the Alliance of Baptists’ Annual Gathering, I was speaking with a group of women pastors from Cuba and they asked me if this would be translated into Spanish. My hope is that we can next gather stories of these pastors and their stories in Spanish and share them widely!

Rev. Nancy Hastings Sehested, Rev. Kyndra Frazier, and Rev. Grundset Davis

Rev. Nancy Hastings Sehested, Rev. Kyndra Frazier, and Rev. Grundset Davis

Women Rise Up: An Interview with Katey Zeh

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Rev. Katey Zeh is a nationally-recognized advocate for gender justice. Her writing about faith and gender has appeared in Huffington Post, Sojourners, and Religion Dispatches, and her work has been featured in The Washington Post, The Nation, and Colorlines. The Center for American Progress named her one of their top justice-seeking faith leaders to watch. An ordained Baptist minister, she co-hosts Kindreds, a podcast about faith, friendship, and feminism. She lives in North Carolina with her husband Matt and their daughter Samantha. Find her at www.kateyzeh.com or follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook at @KateyZeh.

Rev. Zeh kindly agreed to an interview about her new book, Women Rise Up: Sacred Stories of Resistance for Today’s Revolution, with Equity for Women in the Church’s Co-Chair, Rev. Jann Aldredge-Clanton.

Some feminists believe that the Bible is misogynistic and cannot be a helpful resource for dismantling patriarchy. Why do you draw from biblical stories in your advocacy of gender justice and equality in Women Rise Up?

What constantly amazes me about the Bible is that even though the text is deeply patriarchal and misogynistic, there are numerous women within its pages who find ways to survive against all odds and to resist oppression in creative, subversive ways. For example, in Exodus Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives to the Hebrew women, defy the order of the pharaoh to murder all the newborn baby boys, and they do so at great personal risk. Stories like these inspire me and give me hope for today’s struggle for gender justice.

How has your call to ministry led to your writing and your advocacy for women and girls?

My call to ministry emerged over a period of years as I began to learn about feminist theology and explore how to apply it in practical ways to my own life. Guided by the deep belief that women and girls are created in the image of God, I seek to make the world a more just, compassionate place for all, but in particular for those who are most vulnerable, including women and girls living at the margins of society. My writing is a natural outflowing of that calling: to lift up the sacred worth of women, both within the sacred texts and beyond it.

You are one of my Baptist sisters in ministry. What led you to ordination in the Baptist denomination and why have you remained Baptist?

I’m fairly new to the Baptist faith. I was part of the United Methodist Church for nearly 25 years, but I made the painful decision to leave after witnessing the denomination turn its back on reproductive dignity and denying the rights of my LGBTQ+ siblings. I felt denominationally displaced until walking into Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. What I found there was a celebration and an embracing of all of God’s beloved children and a fierce, firm, historic commitment to upholding the dignity, rights, and well-being of all.

Pullen was the first faith community in which I felt like I could fully and unabashedly articulate my commitment to advocating for women and girls, particularly their access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care, and it would not be liability. In fact, my advocacy work was the very basis upon which I sought and received ordination from my church. Being affirmed in that way has been such a gift to me because this work is not easy. Having a community of support around me keeps me going.

In Women Rise Up you emphasize the intersection of sexism with racism, classism, and other injustices. Which stories in the book do you think best represent this intersectionality?

The story of Sarai and Hagar illustrates the many ways in which women are culpable of great violence against one another. Hagar is a foreigner and a slave. Sarai is an abuse survivor who perpetuates the cycle of abuse by forcing Hagar into becoming her surrogate. My reading is heavily shaped by Delores Williams’s classic womanist text Sisters in the Wilderness, who explores the text through the lens of the African-American woman’s experience.

Another text I explored was the Book of Ruth. Too often we romanticize this story as one about sisterhood and faithfulness of female friendship, but there are troubling aspects of the story, namely how Naomi pushes her daughter-in-law Ruth, a foreigner, into a sexual encounter with Boaz, the wealthy landowner who holds the keys to their survival.

I do not mean to villainize any of these women, but I do want to explore their full humanity and offer them both my critique and my compassion.

Women Rise Up combines your gifts as a compelling storyteller, a creative Bible teacher, and a social justice activist. Which biblical stories resonate most with your personal story?

I probably most resonate with Martha of Bethany. I’m naturally a doer and inclined to overwork. And I also have no problem letting folks know that I think a particular situation is unjust! She brings her complaints to Jesus on multiple occasions, which in my view demonstrates the strength of their friendship.

How did your seminary course on “Gender, Sex, and Power in the Books of Ruth and Esther” inform your reading of the story of Ruth and Naomi? Do you relate to them when they have to simultaneously resist and comply with the patriarchal norms of their time?

The Book of Ruth was one I have long cherished, but this class helped me see how differently Ruth is treated by the author. Repeatedly we are reminded that Ruth was a foreigner and thus excluded from full participation in the society. Again, I see Ruth and Naomi as fully human and in a dire situation--as widows they have no access to resources except through the (perhaps) benevolence of a man. In order to earn his favor, however, Ruth must make herself sexually available to him at great risk to her personal safety, not to mention her emotional well-being.

How do the messages women often get in church make them feel they have to find a way to be like Martha and Mary at the same time? Have you felt this way?

In my experience in church, women are expected to do the mundane work of daily life--cooking, cleaning, caring for the sick and the young--while also dedicating ample time to their spiritual lives. No matter which piece they are tending to, they are told they ought to be doing the other--all while smiling and not complaining. I always wished that Jesus would have offered to give Martha a hand with whatever she was doing.

How do you connect the story of Mary Magdalene to the widespread sexualization of women and girls today?

Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the resurrection, and yet nearly every reference to her in popular culture is rooted in mythology of her being a prostitute, which was a falsehood created by a Pope over a thousand years ago.

One of the fastest ways to shut a woman up or make a girl feel small is to attack her body. An observation or even an accusation about a woman’s sexuality shifts the attention away from the fullness of her power. We see this in the problematic legacy of Mary Magdalene, which my book strives to correct.

You mention being open to the movement of the Spirit “who uncovers new revelations from the pages of these ancient texts.” What is one new revelation you had as you were writing this book?

Even the shortest of texts can have most profound insights if we would only spend the time allowing it to emerge.

In your book you point out that current-day women around the world still experience many of the injustices that biblical women suffered. How do you see your generation moving forward on the work of gender justice?

I see my generation taking a much more intersectional approach to gender justice. We see the connections between systems of oppression, and we refuse to address them in piecemeal ways. The work is more complex and more difficult--and the “wins” are fewer--but we see that this is the only way that we can find true liberation.

What’s one question about your new book you’d like to answer that I didn’t ask?

“Tell me about your grandmother Honey.” Honey was a humble, loving woman. She was small in stature and an amazing golfer. And she always made me feel like the most important person in the room. When I went to visit her, she always had a candy bar for me. She gently introduced me to God and to the Bible, and for that I will forever be grateful. Honey, I hope I make you proud!

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Sophia the Goose

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Sarah Macias is an ordained Baptist minister with a background in eco-theology and a calling towards agricultural ministry. She and her husband, Rodney, live on Sister Grove Farm in Van Alstyne, Texas in an 1859 historic farmhouse. Through implementation of regenerative agricultural practices they hope to rebuild soil health, restore native prairie grasses, and promote a diversity of plant and animal species. They are also developing a small retreat center where individuals, groups, and families can reconnect with the land.

“You can have that goose if you can catch her. No charge.” We had come to buy twelve heirloom chickens so this offer shortly after we met Joe, our poultry farmer friend, caught us by surprise.

We looked at each other with puzzled expressions. What would we do with a goose? Is there a reason he doesn’t want her? Why is she free?

“If you can catch her” was the only condition and as our thoughts were racing with questions and suspicions, the goose walked directly and deliberately into a dog house. She was contained. We had “caught her.”

Her calm and confident demeanor remained intact as she was then transferred into a crate. Loaded up along with the chickens we all soon headed home to Sister Grove Farm.

With this unanticipated passenger, we suddenly had a dilemma. The decision had already been made to name the chickens after our favorite female eco-theologians and Biblicists – so we knew there would be a Rosemary and a Sallie; an Ellen and Elizabeth, etc…. But, what to call a goose?

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Knowing that the wild goose is the Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit due to its wild and unpredictable nature, we often stop in reverence to their honking as they fly over our farm. We love watching them as they migrate to their various seasonal dwelling places.

But this soft, gray feathered creature, that Joe estimated to be about three years old, is a Toulouse Goose and they tend to stay close to home. Like the chickens, the Toulouse are a heritage breed; hardy and disease resistant but threatened with extinction by modern agriculture; kind of like the divine feminine. Her name then became clear to us – she would be Sophia. And so, we headed to the farm with Lady Wisdom in the back of the pickup.

In fact, it could be that both modern agriculture and modern religion could benefit from a dose of her wisdom.

In the decades since World War II, small farms that have been in families for generations have been displaced by large, industrial farms. Corporate supported monocrop production, which depletes soil and water health, has come to dominate our rural landscapes and our grocery shelves have become stocked with processed, food-like substances. Paradoxically, both childhood hunger and obesity have become the norm from this dysfunctional system.

As families have been forced to leave the farm, our society has become more transient. Less attached to the places we live, we now shop around for a church, if we go at all. A spiritual consumerism has resulted in menus of programs and services offered often by super-size churches. Anonymity is easy to find here as is a homogeneity of congregants with little need to engage in understanding or even listening to people who think differently.

Meanwhile, Sophia is calmly getting to know her new place and community at Sister Grove Farm – the orchard, pasture, and our two ponds. She has even been getting to know the neighbors recently. She was at the Martins next door for a couple of days on their pond, along with a heron. We know Jerry and LaMerle Martin because they go to our church. Today we found her on the Duggars’ place. They have ducks. I don’t really know them; don’t know where, or if, they even go to church.

I have missed seeing Sophia the last few mornings with my coffee after her early swim but am comforted that she is close by. Unlike the Canadian geese, she is not wild, nor does she fly far away. She will come home but perhaps home is not only this address but those adjacent to me and maybe even those to them. Perhaps home is community – wherever we are. Perhaps there is a wisdom in staying put but not insulated; being neighborly and getting to know the community of creatures with whom we share our place.

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It is my opinion and experience that the healthiest communities are those that are diverse; whether as crops in the field, animals in the barnyard, or people in the pew. Nature does not thrive as a monoculture. The same could be said for our understandings of God.

The divine can never be captured in one christology. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out – “God is male!” “No, God is female!” – they fly over to the neighbor’s pond because the divine can never actually be “caught,” confined, or limited. Our christologies can though when they feel threatened enough to dominate and silence others as the exclusively patriarchal images have done - to the detriment of men, women, children, earth, and even God.

Sophia christology is inclusive of others. Her wisdom is patient and comes from a source as old as the cosmos yet is as fresh as the beginning of a new creation. It is holistic; recognizing the biodiversity of true relationships that connect rather than false boundaries that divide.

Christ-Sophia celebrates the male, female, and queer enfleshment of God in all things which has been present since the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.

It is in the soil and the water from which all life is formed. It is in in the bread and wine from which all life is sustained. It is in you and me, in the places we call home, and in our neighbors, who may live across the fence but sit beside us at the table.

Which reminds me… I need to go meet the Duggars.

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The State of Clergywomen in the U.S.: Five Reasons We Need Numbers

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Post author Rev. Dr. Eileen Campbell-Reed is an academic entrepreneur. She teaches for Central Seminary, is co-director of the Learning Pastoral Imagination Project, author of Anatomy of a Schism, and founder and host of the Three Minute Ministry Mentor.




When Equity for Women was just forming as an organization in 2013, visionaries Jann Aldredge-Clanton and Sheila Sholes-Ross knew we needed some numbers. For movements to gain traction they need many things: vision, compelling stories, passionate people, and yes, numbers. Yet in 2018, fifty years after the movement for equity in church leadership began, no comprehensive numbers had been available for two decades.*

When I released the State of Clergywomen in the U.S. it filled a 20-year data gap. In 1998 Barbara Brown Zikmund,‎ Adair T. Lummis, and‎ Patricia Mei Yin Chang published the landmark study, Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling, which drew together data and surveyed attitudes from predominantly white denominations. In 2001 Delores Carpenter published A Time for Honor: A Portrait of African American Clergywomen, offering the first comprehensive look at women’s leadership in historic Black churches.

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Now we have updated numbers about clergywomen and LGBTIQ clergy. Here are five reasons that having them matters.

1. Numbers help us see the bigger picture.

Changing systems of oppression does not happen all at once and seeing the wide-angle view of growth over time is important for helping people maintain hope and realism about the possibilities for change. In the case of clergywomen there is hope that after fifty years the numbers shifted such that women rose from 2.3% to 20.7% of the ordained clergy in the U.S. Realistically, we still have a long way to go.

2) Numbers are a shorthand to signal growth, yet they cannot tell the full story of bias.

Growth can by no means be measured solely by numbers. Yet numbers are one of the measures that communicate like shorthand when it comes to social change. People who are committed to access and equity in the church for women, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) members and clergy, know that low numbers can signal a lack of active, open acceptance. And we also know that higher numbers of women do not tell the whole story of change because implicit bias remains at work even when the numbers approach or reach equity.

For example, the United Church of Christ (UCC) numbers of clergywomen are approaching parity. Women are half the clergy in the UCC and 38% of the pastors. When I shared this data with several women I met at the National Council of Churches gathering last Autumn, they scoffed. One of them told me that her daughter is a UCC pastor, yet she has struggled to find a pastoral call, and she has served in situations far from ideal. This story is repeated in every denomination.

3) Numbers give evidence that someone is attending to the data of a movement.

Women called to ministry over the last five decades are busy transcending the limits of the church through innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship. They try out new roles and reach out to new groups. This collaborative partnership with the Spirit does not always leave much time for attending to the movement as a movement, much less, gathering data. Thankfully, some Equity leaders have paid attention to data in the movement: For example see the research conducted by Martha Simmons and Courtney Pace, featured in the report.

Whether clergywomen and LGBTIQ clergy are energized by transforming structures and infiltrating patriarchal and complementarian systems to embody change, or stepping outside those limits, it is encouraging feedback to see how the change looks. And what the numbers tell us right now is that a change is working, although far from realized.

4) Numbers provide a clue about what more needs to be done in terms of research.

We need more than numbers to understand the ways that systems of domination continue to undermine the calling and gifts of women and LGBTIQ clergy. One kind of research we need for sure is more qualitative studies of clergy in general and clergywomen in particular. Qualitative studies are expensive and take time to gather longitudinal data, yet they are essential for digging deeper into the numbers associated with change. Even large-scale quantitative research demands collaboration and coordination that is beyond a single researcher.

5) Numbers offer points of comparison.

When trying to parse out the meanings and dynamics of change some insight can come from comparing the experiences of women to men who have dominated the profession of ministry for centuries. Often questions rather than insights arise from comparisons. For example, when we note that women of color are going to seminary in greater numbers, and the numbers of white women attending seminary is dropping precipitously, we are left to wonder: what factors are at work in these trends?

Another point of comparison and contrast comes when we ask: Why are some denominations making greater strides toward equity than others? What is at stake theologically and/or socially in different denominational groups? When updating the statistics for the 2018 report, we included more groups than were part of the original data to add more comparison points. The State of Clergywomen in the U.S. added these to Zikmund, et. al.’s original list: African Methodist Episcopal, many varieties of Baptist groups, the Foursquare Church, the Mennonite Church, and the Reformed Church in America.

To read the newly collected numbers, sign up to download your copy of the State of Clergywomen in the U.S: 2018 Statistical Report by visiting stateofclergywomen.org. To update the numbers for your denomination, please visit our feedback page.

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* In 2012, I updated some of the mainline numbers in this article: “Baptists in Tension.”

The Linguistics of Humanity: How Words Can Hurt and Heal

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Post author Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross is Co-Chair of Equity for Women in the Church, Inc.  Rev. Sholes-Ross was ordained through American Baptist Churches, USA, and called as the 30th pastor of First Baptist Church of Pittsfield, Massachusetts in November 2013, as the church's first African-American female pastor.  She is a former board member of The Alliance of Baptists. 
 


During a recent religious community meeting, with area clergy and lay church workers, I was intrigued by a presentation and the conversation which ensued regarding a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in December 2017, When Americans Say They Believe in God, What Do They Mean? A powerful discussion was initiated relating to the linguistics within the study, and how words are always significant to receivers and reviewers of words. So of course, I thought about Equity for Women in the Church, and our passion to eradicate certain patriarchal traditions in the religious settings. 

Are we not advocating to reduce, no remove, such traditions that have hindered women called by God to become senior pastors? We consider the time in which texts, such as 1 Timothy 2:12 that stipulates women should keep silent, were written and the agenda behind them. We know how badly the words of these texts hurt, and how they continue in this 21st century to perpetrate injustice toward women in ministry. There are times when we, as “Equity” advocates are preaching to the choir, when our advocacy is minimized when we, too, are not concerned with how “our” words can truly heal or hurt. Are we doing enough beyond our passionate movement? So, I will not spend time refuting I Timothy 2:12; it’s not needed, but what is needed is an introspection regarding our use of “all” words. It is documented in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament Scriptures that words can heal and hurt. Hopefully this piece will challenge us to reflect upon our own use of words in all given situations.

Since comments were allowed during that presentation I referenced the importance of bringing into any conversation a person’s contextual history, inclusion of current perspectives, along with an unambiguous understanding of those factors. All must be infused into how words are delivered and received. Impossible, right? During prior community meetings I have been known to use female imagery to reference God…usually it’s ignored or tolerated, but I maintain the advocacy. Anyway, I kept referencing that to ensure that people find some connection during a conversation, especially during this social media age, that the use of language must be inclusive and respectful, and not just tolerated.

That’s when the discussion led to my “aha” moment—an epiphany. “What if we, as human beings, will actually consciously work on the words we use and how we use them with others and even to ourselves?” Yes, “freedom of speech” is important; one’s right to think independently is critical. But, what about the importance of having caring hearts for “all” of humanity and being respectful even when there are differing ideologies? We are losing our caring hearts in America with so many of us wielding hurtful words that may take a lifetime to heal.

The Bible, with its offering of religious information, can also be viewed as a book of history. It offers support that Bible writers, in ancient times, perceived that the use of words was significant as exemplified in Proverbs 18:21 which states, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat of its fruit” (NRSV). The Ancients understood something of importance.

When words come from our lips during conversations or from our fingers through social media and technology, they may be ill-considered, even crude. Yes, death of one’s spirit can come about with hurtful words. For example, telling a child he or she may not amount to anything because of where they are from is speaking death to that child’s spirit. Think about it. Even familiar phrases can be hurtful to some, such as the phrase “You Guys” when there are women in the midst of the addressed group. Are we not then continuing patriarchal traditions? Currently, it seems that people, especially some religious people in America are promoting a lot of hurtful words across situations and issues, as well as amongst various people and ethnicities. Are we eating negative fruit repercussions with our words? Do we all need an intervention to examine our choice and use of words? Lately, have you truly listened to words offered you, and were they hurtful? Were the words unnecessarily critical or condescending? How did this make you feel? Yes, death and life can be in the power of the tongue…and now, in the 21st Century, with fingers and “send” buttons. But just as hurtful words can wound, words of encouragement can be life changing and healing. 

A New Testament Scripture states, “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way…” (Ephesians 4:15, NRSV). Many of us have problems with one’s “truth.” And, even if there is a misconception regarding one’s personal truth, it is definitely not spoken in a loving manner, and so we are not growing in human kindness and respect of others. The time has come to take a realistic look at ourselves and recognize that words are important. Be the person whose words, however presented, offer healing instead of death and hurt. Be the person who seeks truth, whose words are not merely shaped by your dislike of people who do not look like, act or think in ways that you do. Yes, speak truth, but allow that truth to come from a person infiltrated with love towards humanity. Have a lasting positive impact upon another person.

I am also encouraged when I read Joel 2:28, “Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy…” (NRSV). Maybe, we as Equity for Women in the Church, Inc. must challenge people to examine the use of their words, whether in a conversation, church setting, text or Twitter; in all venues. I want my words to humanity to be healing and not hurtful; however, I am imperfect. So, when mistakes are made, I am willing to accept responsibility and make amends. Also, we must meet people where they are so that positive interactions can take place. For example, many of the members of the church in which I serve are mainly used to patriarchal imagery and language. However, during worship times I have been known to say “She and He—whatever your comfort level is to reference God.” During sermons and prayers, I reference God by other names, “Holy One, Redeemer, One of Light.” But also, I am becoming more mindful in other settings my use of words to others, and even to self. Are you ready to take on an additional challenge regarding your use of words that can possibly aide the Equity movement? We must be models for others. Some may think this is not a critical matter, but we must assure them that it is. Have you given up watching the news or unfriended or blocked someone on your social media outlets? Why? Maybe it’s because the messages are hurtful and they crush your spirit.   

Are you a healer or do your words hurt people? Maybe it’s unintentional, but then it’s your responsibility to do a self-examination and figure out what is hurtful and fix it. Maybe this piece will assist. Let us be bold in our advocacy on behalf of Equity For Women in the Church, but also let us have a caring heart, and express that care through the use of our words in various settings. Equity for Women in the Church, Inc. is an organization focusing on healing and justice for women in ministry. We hope all will connect with us and receive healing as we grow as a people in community.

Taking Back My Righteous Mind...and Body

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Rev. Dr. Irie L. Session, Co-Founder and Co-Pastor of The Gathering, A Womanist Church in Dallas, Texas is also a social and spiritual entrepreneur. With over 30+ years providing social services and ministry, Dr. Irie is committed to doing whatever she can wherever she can to help create a more just church and society.

 

Like many women raised in a Christian church I was taught certain things about my body. Much of what I learned had the word don’t in front of it. 
Don’t wear your dresses too short. 
Don’t wear your pants too tight. 
Don’t sit with your legs too far apart.
Don’t show your cleavage.
And don’t wear too much lipstick, especially not red lipstick. 

As I would study the Bible in search of the “right ways” to handle my body, particularly as I began to think about marriage, there was one biblical passage that caused me a great deal of consternation and confusion. In 1 Corinthians chapter 7 Paul writes these words, “the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does.” The message this scripture communicated to me was that as a woman, “your body isn’t yours.” Now you have to understand, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and a Black woman whose great great grandmother was enslaved, the idea of not having power over my own body, and it belonging to someone else, particularly a man, was problematic for me. Here’s why.

One of the many adverse consequences of surviving sexual trauma, especially as a child, is feeling not in control of one’s own body. What I mean is this, if in a person’s first sexual experience they were unable to give consent, if their bodies were imposed upon, it is likely they will grow up with a belief that when certain persons want their body, they cannot say no. In other words, they don’t have bodyright - the authority to decide what happens to one’s own body. Others, typically people viewed as more powerful than they, are the ones who have rights to the bodies of survivors of sexual abuse. It’s learned powerlessness. So, even though a survivor may want to say no, they feel powerless to do so. Their bodies can be screaming NO I DON’T WANT THIS, but nothing comes out of their mouths. Because early on, when their bodies were imposed upon, they were silenced, rendered powerless, unable to give consent. Similarly, as a woman who is also Black, I experienced sexual trauma at the intersection of gender and race. Black women’s bodies have historically been less valuable than the bodies of non-black women.  

So, although I found the 1 Corinthians 7 scripture problematic, at least the way it had been interpreted and applied, in order to be a “good” Christian woman and wife, I submitted to what I had been taught; I did not have authority over my own body. My ex-husband did . It mattered not if he was verbally and physically abusive to me; if and when he wanted my body, it was my responsibility, no matter how I felt emotionally, to make it available to him. And each time I did that, each time I handed my body over to him following an abusive verbal assault or violent tantrum, I died a little inside. But that’s the nature of patriarchy. It’s death dealing. 

In the church of my baptism, the virus of patriarchal privilege (where male desire, ideology, and perspectives are centered and normative) infected all biblical teaching. Women’s voices, in and out of the biblical text were marginalized. It has taken over thirty years for me to, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and a sistership consisting of womanist and feminist biblical scholars, theologians, preachers and colleagues, come to voice. I wish I could say, that the virus of patriarchal privilege, and it’s attendant patriarchal Christianity has been flushed completely out of my psyche. But, because it persists, it’s a daily cleansing.

The Christian Church has adopted a patriarchal Christianity whereby Paul’s words to the Corinthian church have been used as a means of controlling the bodies of women and girls. What is most heartbreaking, is that men are not the only persons who adhere to patriarchal Christianity. Women who’ve been fed a steady diet of this unhealthy theology from a child have also internalized it; these church women will all too often fight tooth and nail to hold on to it. 

For the past thirty plus years I have committed my life and ministry to dismantling what I call PMS (patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism). One of the most effective ways I’ve found for eradicating PMS, particularly among those who claim to be followers of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, is re-telling biblical stories and narratives through womanist biblical interpretation. Womanist theology and interpretation saved my righteous mind. Womanism enabled me to see myself as a woman who had been sinned against by a system that marginalized my very being as a Black woman. Womanism helped me understand the many ways I had internalized the lie that by virtue of my race and gender I was worthless and voiceless. Womanism gave me a clearer lens through which to view the world and my place in it. I am valuable, not despite my gender and blackness, but because of it.  My gender and race give me a unique perspective from which to understand the world and the injustices therein.

Such an epistemology affords me and other womanists a unique advantage as change agents and transformative leaders. What’s beautiful about living at this intersection, despite the challenges, is knowing God made me that way. For all those living at the intersection of gender, race, and even class oppression, we have a story—something to say that the world needs to hear. Our voices and creativity are critical to the eradication of social injustice; we see the complexities and nuances of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism and other isms that marginalize and oppress members of the human family of God. We are necessary.


(In referencing my ex-husband, I am speaking of the husband in my second marriage.)

The Will to Fight

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Post author Dr. Cynthia R. Cole, M.Div., D. Min., is a pastor and an advocate for the disenfranchised. She is the founder of CC’s Ministries, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to meeting the safety and security needs of residents in South Dallas, Texas. She is the Senior Pastor of Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Dallas, where she has served for over a decade. A former law enforcement professional and hospice chaplain, she is deeply committed to cultivating the healing, wholeness, and empowerment necessary for growth in every facet of human life.

The journey to wholeness and healing has been fraught with many roadblocks. These roadblocks have challenged my physical, mental, and emotional health, and I’ve had to muster the strength to deal with both my mother’s abuse from my stepfather and my own abuse from my former husband. Like my mother, I married and bore a daughter at a very young age. After I was forced at gunpoint to leave my abusive marriage, I found employment and studied to receive my high school diploma equivalency from the North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges. I began a career in law enforcement because I wanted to be able to protect myself and my daughter. After twenty-five years of service, I retired from law enforcement in 1999.

Overcoming the varied manifestations of violence that I have had to confront domestically, professionally, and ecclesiastically, requires a will to fight. I liken my life’s path to that of the character Sophia in Alice Walker’s, The Color Purple. One of the famous lines from the book is, “All my life I’ve had to fight.” Yes, I’ve had to fight, but I draw strength from God and from my personal pain in order to empower women to stand against any form of domestic, professional, and ecclesiastical violence. This is the mission of my ministry.

When I first embraced the call to preach, God showed me clearly that there was a need for a healing ministry for women. This healing ministry would focus on repairing broken family relationships, abuse, and neglect. I was inspired to bring together twenty-five chosen women for a healing, deliverance, and empowerment conference. The initial gathering of women evolved into what was eventually called “The Christmas Delight.” I presented it as an annual event the first weekend of December in 2001. Over the years since, I have received many letters from women who have attended, sharing with me testimonies of how God spoke into their lives through this ministry event. This year, December 16, 2017, we are extending the invitation to include men out of a desire to establish communal wholeness.

As a second means for answering the call to promote healing, I established a non-profit organization in 2004, CC’s Ministries. The mission of CC’s Ministries is to meet the needs of residents living in South Dallas who are disenfranchised and impoverished. I purchased a home in Southern Dallas County with the short-term objective of converting it into a safe house for abused women and children. In pursuing this work, I have discovered that the community also benefits from other basic needs such as food, clothing, and counseling. Since 2004, CC’s Ministries has provided these services to countless families in South Dallas and abroad.

I have chosen to take my life experiences and channel them into meaningful, liberating ministry. I believe firmly in women taking authority and operating in their own agency as empowered persons capable of any task set before them, especially ministry. Again, I have come to these conclusions from my own struggles in leadership. On November 17, 2007, my commitment to fight violence through loving ministry was tested as I was assigned to a congregation, following a retired pastor who had served the local congregation for thirty-three years. The retired minister remained with the congregation as an active member until his death in 2013.

When I first arrived, members of the congregation appeared to be excited to hear a new voice and to experience a new style of preaching. However, conflict soon arose. My authority as pastor was undermined by the antics of the former pastor who was directing members from behind the scenes. He discouraged members from receiving communion from me, suggesting that they would be taking it to their “damnation.” God blessed the ministry despite his efforts to sabotage it. Fourteen new members joined in the first month. These new members needed to be baptized, but the ministerial staff at the church refused to assist me in baptizing them. One of the ministerial staff members blatantly stated that no woman has the authority to speak, lead, or guide a man. Despite his sentiments and without his assistance, I baptized all fourteen new members over the months to follow.

I wish I could say I was surprised, but ministry is not my first experience in a male-oriented field. As previously stated, I worked in law enforcement, and as a result, I was well aware of how women are treated differently from their male colleagues. The difference between my expectations in law enforcement and the church is that I expected Christians to act differently than the members of secular society. Nothing could have prepared me for the harsh way I have been treated over the years by people who say they love God and are seeking to be more Christ-like. It is as though I am competing against men who have identified it as their mission to show me that my place is not beside them but rather beneath them. I am also fighting against women who have internalized sexism and patriarchy. They want to convince me that I am wrong for moving out of the submissive female role.

One scriptural passage that has helped me frame my journey is 2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV), which states, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Like the Apostle Paul, who penned these words to Timothy before his impending execution, I am determined to stand for what is right even if I stand alone or am ostracized for it. I cannot say that I have attained perfection, but the will to fight urges me on. I pray that others will also be inspired to oppose any form of discrimination that hinders people from expressing their full selves or achieving their full potential in God the Creator.

I Wish Someone Had Told Me

Post author Dr. Alfie Wines, M.Div., Ph.D., is a pastor, biblical scholar, and theologian. She currently serves as Senior Pastor of Union Memorial United Methodist Church, Sandy, Texas.  She draws upon her unquenchable passions for biblical interpretation, biblical & religious literacy, worship, music, prayer, and leadership to enlighten, edify, and empower others. She is committed to encouraging compassionate living through a deeper understanding of the biblical text. Find her #BibleStudyRemix on FB Live, Mondays at 7 pm CST, and after the broadcast here

 

My experiences and those of many clergywomen confirm that the church is both a blessed place and a frustrating place to work. While that can be said of any workplace, for many clergywomen, myself included, that duality is magnified and multiplied more times that we’d like to count when the workplace is the church.

The responsibility and opportunity to regularly speak a word of healing and wholeness in various settings is a blessing in and of itself. Years of study along with the work of ministry become a part of one’s life. In time, ministry becomes not just what a clergywoman does, but a part of who she is.

How is it then, that the church is both a blessed place and a frustrating place to work? How is it that so often the people with whom she ministers, the ones she is trying to help, are the very ones who can be the cause of so much pain?

More than once, I’ve asked these questions of myself, and of other clergywomen as well. More than once, I’ve thought, and said out loud, “I wish someone had told me. I wish someone had told me just how difficult the journey can be.”

Whenever the question arises, I am drawn to the story of Abraham and how it is that God does not tell him everything from the beginning. In Genesis 12, Abraham’s first encounter with God, God promises to bless Abraham and make his name great, so that he would be a blessing to all the families of the earth.

In Genesis 15 God tells Abraham that the land from the Nile to the Euphrates, a land already inhabited by several groups of people, will belong to his descendants, that his descendants will be enslaved in another land and come out with many possessions, eventually returning to the promised land in the fourth generation.

In Genesis 17, after Hagar has given birth to Abraham’s son, Ishmael, God reiterates the promise of descendants and commands circumcision as a sign of the covenant between God, Abraham, and Abraham’s descendants. Furthermore, God explains God will bless Ishmael to be a great nation, but that Sarah will give birth to a son who will be Abraham’s heir. 

What strikes me about these passages is not just what God says, but also what God does not say to Abraham about the promises God makes. In ch. 12, God speaks only of the blessing. No mention is made of the difficulties that accompany the promise to make Abraham a blessing to all the earth. In ch. 15 God mentions geographical boundaries, noting that the land is already inhabited and that enslavement and return will be part of Israel’s story. There is no mention that war will comprise a major part of the story. In ch. 17 God explains that Sarah will give birth and that Ishmael will be blessed with descendants. While it is implied by its absence, there is no mention that Ishmael’s nation will not be given any land. There is not even a hint that national decline, exile, and return is also part of the biblical story.   

While this pattern can be seen in the lives of other biblical call stories, for example Isaiah and Jeremiah, it is a major feature in Abraham’s story. Many women in ministry can attest to this same pattern.         

As with Abraham, clergywomen are blessed to be a blessing. As with Abraham, it is also clear that hardly anyone talks about how difficult the journey can be. Perhaps that is the way it is when the undertaking is unchartered territory.

However, women in ministry is no longer unchartered territory. Still, women in ministry have born the pain and lived with the scars. At a time when it is clear that every system, every institution, the church included, is in need of a long overdue overhaul in order to be inclusive, the time for clergywomen to be silent is no longer. 

Here are some things that clergywomen might wish someone—pastor, mentor, colleague, professor—had told them early on as they considered and responded to God’s call in their lives. 

First, church work pays not just less, but a whole lot less, than the corporate workplace.

Second, although “politics” is part of life in any workplace, politics in the church can be even more intense.

Third, while they may have experienced sexism and/or racism in the workplace in other settings, sadly, their most painful experiences can happen in the church.

Fourth, while networking among colleagues is part of any job, it is essential to surviving and thriving in ministry. 

Fifth, the work of a pastor is often a lonely undertaking, especially in a small church with relatively little regular contact with others, including colleagues who understand how difficult the work can be.

Sixth, with so much of the work needing to be done on a weekly basis, repetitiveness may result in work that is neither challenging nor engaging. 

Seventh, built in previous decades, church offices are often dated in comparison to offices built in more recent times.

Eighth, the energy required to meet the demands of church work is quite different than the energy needed in other workplaces.  

Ninth, churches are not held accountable for their missteps.  

Tenth, churches are often more interested in maintaining the status quo of the past than living Jesus’ commandments to love God, others, and oneself.

If you are a clergywoman, please share your experiences. What do you wish someone had told you as you considered and answered God’s call in your life? How can Equity for Women in the Church be a voice and advocate for clergywomen?

Men Speak Out for Equity for Women in the Church

This blog post features male voices speaking out in support of Equity for Women in the Church’s mission.  We asked contributors to respond to this prompt: 

Often advocating for women in ministry is seen as a “women’s issue,” rather than as an urgent justice matter that impacts the whole church and every gender.  Why is the equal representation of clergywomen as pastors important for men, too?  How can men advocate on behalf of women in ministry? 

Each respondent offers his own creative insight and call to wholeness...

Rev. Dr. Marvin McMickle, President, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School:

I should begin by saying that my pastor for the first eight years of my life was The Rev. Mary G. Evans of Cosmopolitan Community Church in Chicago. It was because of her, that I could never join the chorus of those who sought to argue that women could not or should not be in the Christian ministry. This 1930s University of Chicago Divinity School trained woman remains the standard by which I measure all other clergy; male or female.

Just as important for me is Paul’s reference to Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2 where Paul refers to Phoebe, one of his female followers by the term diakonos, the exact same term he uses whenever he refers to Timothy or other male followers of Jesus. Granted, Paul seems to point in a different direction when he speaks about women in I Corinthians 14:33-35 and I Timothy 2:11-12. In those two passage Paul seems to either discourage or disallow women any voice or leadership in the early church. In those instances, Paul seems inclined to embrace the prevailing cultural view regarding the status of women in what were the patriarchal, male-dominated societies of the Greco-Roman world. However, in Galatians 3:28 and again in Romans 16:1-2 Paul shows more openness to the full and equal status of women in the church, no matter what the cultural norms might have been.

As the role and status of women in the world has changed, so must the church change its practices and policies regarding any attempt to prevent women from exercising leadership as preachers, pastors, and teachers in the church. I have personally ordained, hired, or installed over two dozen women into ministry positions. All of them continue to serve with distinction. The legacy of Mary G. Evans continues. Praise the Lord!

Marv Knox, Editor of the Baptist Standard, Dallas, TX:

Equal representation of clergywomen as pastors is vital for men as well as women. Let’s consider two perspectives.

First, what if you woke up and discovered more than half your body was paralyzed? The Apostle Paul called the church the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31), so this is a fair question. More than 50 percent of most congregations, as well as the church universal, are females. When we deny them the opportunity to serve as pastor, we separate the church from its base of strength. We prohibit the body of Christ from exercising its full potential.

 Second, women bring enormous gifts and blessings to the pastorate. Traits often exhibited abundantly by women—empathy and the innate ability to identify with others, intuition, and willingness to listen first and speak later—are essential qualities for successful pastors. From preaching, to pastoral care, to long-range planning, women pastors excel and expand God’s Kingdom.

 How can men advocate on behalf of women ministers?

• Encourage girls to grow up to be all God wants them to be—and mean it.

• Learn and quote Scripture passages that affirm the ministry of women.

• Speak up for women in ministry; put yourself between bullies and women in ministry.

• Encourage women ministers.

• Pray for them.

Rev. Scott Shirley, Pastor, Church in the Cliff, Dallas, TX:

First, it’s biblical – women have held ministerial positions in every era of the biblical narrative. Junia was an apostle; Phoebe was a deacon; Chloe was a head of household and leader in the church at Corinth; Miriam, Deborah, and Anna were prophets; Mary Magdalene was the first to proclaim the resurrection; unnamed women throughout the Bible mourn and grieve alongside those who suffer. Every task set before me as a minister was done by women in the Bible.

Second, roughly half the people in the world are women. How can the Church speak to women if we won’t allow women to speak with authority? How can we even know what to say if we don’t allow women’s voices in the room? How can we deprive ourselves of the wisdom, knowledge, experience, passion, and strength of half the world?

Finally, personally, I cannot count the number of strong, smart, passionate women I have been blessed to know and learn from. The female teachers, mentors, and colleagues that have helped form me in ministry by far outweigh the value of the men. That’s just the truth. To the men who object to having women in ministry, it is certainly your loss. But you must consider the loss to God’s people at your hands and repent.

Rev. Dr. John Ballenger, Pastor, Woodbrook Baptist Church, Baltimore, MD:

“Dad, why did the preacher say I must have misunderstood God?”

“One … two … three ….”

“What are you doing, Dad?”

“Counting to ten … slowly.”

“You know the dentist said it’s not good
when you grind your teeth together like that.” 

“I know. Thank you for reminding me.
Here’s the thing: do you remember
how utterly disappointed we were
at all the pictures we took on Cadillac Mountain
facing to the east,
looking out over the ocean and the Cranberry Islands,
and facing to the west,
looking out over the lakes and ponds and sounds and bays?
Do you remember how every picture
totally missed the scale of what we saw?”

“Yes. The pictures seemed so small.
And none of them got—
they all got just a little bit—a little piece of what we saw.”

“Exactly. And when it comes to God,
we all turn God and God’s vision for us and for creation
into a smaller version—a distorted vision.
Like with the pictures, it has to do with our limits.” 

“You mean with us being human beings and God being God?”

“Well there is that.
But I really don’t know how to think about what that means anymore.
So I mean more the limits of our imagination—
of our discipline, and commitment, and our compassion.” 

“The limits that keep us from what you’ve always called living big?”

“Yes! 
And a lot of our limits—a lot of our living small
really boils down to fear—
the fear of what’s different—
the fear of not being in control—
the fear of losing control—of losing power.
I think most of our fear though—is the fear that we’re not special.”

“We’re terrified that we’re smaller than we are,
and then act all big because we’re afraid we’re not
and become smaller than we ever were to begin with.”

“Yes. And then don’t even know to be frustrated with the smallness—
or even acknowledge it.
As if to admit our small, somehow makes God small,
instead of simply affording us the opportunity to say
something about what’s so much bigger.”

“So instead of letting our small sink into big,
we shrink God.”

“All too often, yes.
But one of the best gifts of our God and of our faith,
if we’re open to it,
is the call of God’s big to our small—
the call of beyond and more to what is.
So if God calls you to include
and to love
and to speak out for and with those who aren’t listened to—
if God calls you to preach
good news that’s not easy—
that’s hard and hopeful—
good news that’s big,
then anyone who tells you you’ve misunderstood ….”

“You’re grinding your teeth again.”

“You know, if it’s just them
missing what you have to share,
that’s sad.
But if they are in positions to deny your voice—
to make your big seem small—
when their own small shrinks a vision so much bigger,
that’s infuriating—
still sad,
but even more infuriating. 

Ultimately, of course, small cannot contain big.
It can do a lot of damage trying.
More than just making parts of big real uncomfortable—
small can kill parts of big, but, in the end,
small cannot contain big.”

“That’s Easter, isn’t it?”

“That’s why it’s they who misunderstand.
In the end, it’s all Easter.
And the first one to get that—the first one to preach that—
the first one to preach Easter—”

“Was a woman!”

A Deacon in Heaven

Post author Rev. Dr. Jann Aldredge-Clanton serves as co-chair of Equity for Women in the Church and adjunct professor at Richland College. She is an Alliance of Baptists ordained minister and an award-winning hymn text writer and author of books on inclusive theology and worship. She blogs at www.jannaldredgeclanton.com.



For more than 30 years my mother, Eva Aldredge Henley, advocated for the ordination of women deacons and pastors in her West Texas Baptist church. But that still hasn’t happened. She didn’t live to see this happen—at least not on earth. One of her church friends wrote in the memorial service guest book: “She’s a deacon in heaven!”

For 90+ years Mother prayed, along with Christians around the world, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Our Creator’s will for her was finally done in heaven. But why not on earth as in heaven? Why didn’t the churches she served so faithfully for so many years give her the freedom to become all she’s created to be in the divine image while she was on earth? Far too many churches still deny the divine image in women by denying them the right to be deacons, pastors, or priests.

All her long life Mother was a dedicated Christian and faithful church member. She taught Sunday school for 82 years. The Sunday before she went to heaven, she even taught her class. Her class, “Any and All,” is aptly named because she not only welcomed all to her class but actively sought them out. She invited anyone she saw—from the grocery store cashier to waiters at restaurants. Her class members have been of 5 different races, various ages, genders, and economic backgrounds—many who don’t feel comfortable in other Sunday school classes and churches. She lived Jesus’ words: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

She ministered to a diversity of people also in her role as pastor’s wife in four churches. Like my father, she had a seminary degree and abundant pastoral gifts. Her gregarious personality, dynamic speaking voice, and exceptional leadership skills made her every bit as qualified as my father to pastor a church. But she served churches as an unpaid, untitled outreach worker, events organizer, educator, and development officer. She co-founded a missions organization and led mission trips to eight countries, including 46 mission trips to Ukraine. She raised money for missions around the world. In addition, she ministered to students for 25 years in her position as a high school English teacher.

In spite of her long, faithful service, churches did not consider her “qualified” to be ordained as a deacon or a pastor because she was a woman. They ordained men half her age and younger with far fewer gifts and far fewer years of dedicated service. They counted them worthy and qualified because they were men. But no woman, no matter how gifted or called or how faithfully she served the church, was deemed worthy and qualified—simply because she was female.

Sadly, churches’ discrimination against women is still widespread. This discrimination has consequences. In a Baptist Standard article titled “How Do Evangelicals Enable ‘Locker Room Talk’ about Women?” editor Marv Knox calls out “male-dominated patriarchal” evangelical churches who contribute to “rape culture” by treating “women as objects” instead of as “creatures of infinite worth who bear the image of their Creator.” He writes: “Women are the backbone of the church, but in most congregations, they are not allowed to exercise leadership equal with men. Few allow women to be deacons; fewer still allow them to be pastors. So, no matter how many times they tell their daughters, ‘God made you, and you can be anything God wants you to be,’ they don’t mean it. Girls and women have their limits.”

President Jimmy Carter writes in A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power that “discrimination and violence against women and girls is the world’s most serious violation of human rights,” and he points out the religious basis for this discrimination and violence:

There is a system of discrimination, extending far beyond a small geographical region to the entire globe; it touches every nation, perpetuating and expanding the trafficking in human slaves, body mutilation, and even legitimized murder on a massive scale. This system is based on the presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls, and it is supported by some male religious leaders who distort the Holy Bible and other sacred texts to perpetuate their claim that females are, in some basic ways, inferior to them, unqualified to serve God on equal terms.

A Baptist Sunday school teacher for more than 70 years, Carter gives thorough biblical support for the equality of women:

There is one incontrovertible fact concerning the relationship between Jesus Christ and women: he treated them as equal to men, which was dramatically different from the prevailing custom of the times. The four Gospels were written by men, but they never report any instance of Jesus’ condoning sexual discrimination or the implied subservience or inferiority of women. It is ironic that women are deprived of the right to serve Jesus Christ in positions of leadership as they did during his earthly ministry and for about three centuries in the early Christian churches. It is inevitable that this sustained religious suppression of women as inferior or unqualified has been a major influence in depriving women of equal status within the worldwide secular community.

Churches’ discrimination against women has consequences. Our recent Presidential election is a striking example. The majority of evangelicals and Catholics voted for a man who denigrated and abused women through his words and actions, even bragging about sexually assaulting women. This majority of evangelicals and Catholics didn’t value women enough to find this candidate’s behavior reprehensible enough to keep them from voting for him. Their churches have taught them that women are not really worth that much, not worthy enough to be ordained deacons, pastors, or priests. So it’s little wonder they don’t think a Presidential candidate’s misogynist words and deeds are a big deal. And since their churches have taught them that women are not qualified and worthy to be deacons, pastors, or priests, they don’t believe a woman, no matter how qualified, is worthy to be President either. They have learned well what churches, through words and actions, have taught them about the inferiority of women.

How long, how long will churches contribute to discrimination and violence against women by denying them freedom to fulfill their calling to be deacons, pastors, or priests?

Now more than ever, I feel the urgency of the mission of Equity for Women in the Church. Equity for Women in the Church is an ecumenical movement to facilitate equal representation of clergywomen as pastors of multicultural churches in order to transform church and society. Since the fall of 2013 this ecumenical, multicultural organization has been working towards justice and equality for women and girls. We work to tap all the unused talent and training of culturally diverse women. We advocate and network for women across denominations and cultures so that we have opportunities to fulfill our calling to be deacons, pastors, or priests. We work to change churches so they affirm the divine image in women and girls as making us worthy and qualified to be included as equals in every aspect of ministry. Love demands it. Scripture teaches it. Jesus modeled it.

As a “deacon in heaven,” Mother continues to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—our Creator’s will for women to have equal freedom to become all we’re created to be. I’d like to believe that as Mother now has this freedom in heaven, she may be able to help make it so on earth.